Published Jan 30, 2012"A lot of people say they really feel comfortable when they're working at Breakglass and that's something we strived to achieve," Jace Lasek explains. "Just to make sure that people are happy and get our full attention. If they need help with arrangements in their songs then yes, I can totally help them, but if they have that already worked out, I can help them sonically in other ways to make sure that we achieve the best possible record we can."
Lasek's nurturing impulse at Breakglass stems from some unfulfilling experiences he had making records with engineers who were indifferent to his musical vision ― one that has established his band, the Besnard Lakes, as one of the most artful purveyors of swirling psychedelic rock in the world. After being chased out of various lofts in Montreal since the turn of the century, Breakglass emerged in 2005, as a 5,000 square foot space on the third floor of a building just north of the city's Plateau borough.
Lasek co-founded the studio with fellow engineer/producer Dave Smith, and they recently brought in third partner, James Benjamin. With its extensive collection of vintage and new gear, including a 1968 Neve Pre 80 Series 58 input console (as used by Led Zeppelin on Physical Graffiti), and a client list including Ohbijou, Wolf Parade, Land of Talk, and, naturally, the Besnard Lakes, Breakglass is the complex that Lasek has been building in his head since he was a teenager in Regina, Saskatchewan.
"When I was growing up, I was in bands and we were always trying to record our music. We went to all these different studios and we could never get the sounds that we wanted. I finally said 'Fuck it! I'm gonna try and figure out how to do it myself.' So I bought an 8-track, half-inch tape machine and a little mixing desk, we started doing our own recording in our rehearsal space, and I started learning from there."
Lasek attended art school in Vancouver and Smith, who also hailed from Regina, eventually ended up in the city as well. The pair decided to build a studio together but simply couldn't afford a suitable space in Vancouver. When they heard about Montreal's modest rents and its burgeoning artistic underground, they relocated. For his part, Lasek continued to explore the art of sound engineering on his own terms, with no formal training.
"I just bought stuff and broke it, and didn't have any money to have someone fix it, so I had to take it apart and learn how to fix it myself," he chuckles. "That way I got to learn how far you can push something before it breaks, and how to get certain sounds out of things. A lot of money goes into having your machines fixed in the studio, so we developed skills over the years from having to fix things ourselves. That helps a lot to keep the costs down."
That said, Lasek isn't advocating for some kind of blind experimentation here. "You have to love reading instruction manuals, or you might have a tough time," he laughs. "I'm such a nerd that as soon as I get a new piece of gear, I could just go through the whole thing. So yeah; read the manuals!"
By this point, the Besnard Lakes are renowned for a particularly layered sound, derived from Lasek's early reverence for vocal groups like the Beach Boys and Bee Gees and formative years studying the hazy, washed out tones of Spiritualized and Swervedriver. Yet, when artists set up shop at Breakglass and seek out Lasek as a collaborator, he doesn't present them with preconceived notions about what their music should sound like. "I'm not super pushy. What I've searched for when I'm working with a band is making a good headphone record. I think the brain likes little surprises that happen from time to time, the things that sort of jump out of the speakers."
Otherwise, the Breakglass team has worked hard to create a seamless, relaxing workspace. Aside from its echo chamber and enviable gear list, there's a fully functional kitchen and a massive live room with windows that let in real sunlight. At the same time, the control room is closed off so that musicians feel like they're creating on their own. What may sound like small touches loom large for Lasek, who is all about options.
"I want to be able to offer my services to someone where I can either be very present to them if they want or I can sit back and pretend to be invisible so they can get their work done. I wanna make sure that they're comfortable to achieve what they want, musically."